By: Sarah Ellis Morgan
There are certain topics that we are taught not to discuss, whether in public or even at the dinner table with our own family, as those discussions may result in heated debate. Everyone knows the topics one shouldn’t bring up: religion, politics, abortion. Dress code in schools, however, has become a similarly heated debate, raising questions regarding themes of sexism, over-sexualization, and outdated practices.
How does a school define the boundary of what is appropriate in a school setting? Students argue that it is essential to reform dress codes, while schools walk the fine line between what is “acceptable” and what allows for freedom of expression. Shorecrest students seem to have particularly strong feelings about the topic, and Shorecrest administration and faculty sometimes have differing opinions. It’s obvious that student input is key, but it is important to find that balance between what individual students want and something that works for everyone. When interviewed, Dean Hardy stressed, “Dialogue is key.”
As I tried to write this article, I often found myself in the middle. I was frustrated with the system, but couldn’t necessarily think of a better one. I sent out a survey to a couple of advisories from each grade and talked to some students and faculty from Shorecrest to gauge opinions.
Some saw the policy as relaxed. Senior Emma Schiaparelli explained, “We’ve been really lenient over the past few years because my sister, when she was in high school, they had to wear polo shirts and button-downs, so it’s definitely a lot more fair. And you can express yourself better.” Junior Kevin Tang agreed, “The dress code is very lenient. All you have to do is just follow the cylinder and you should be pretty fine.”
One junior, speaking on the condition of anonymity, also pointed out that “this year with it being more lenient, people are allowed to just express themselves more and express themselves through their personality.” Many people oftentimes brought up how, in comparison to stricter policies, Shorecrest’s was preferable. Sophomore Ethan Bekurs said, “It’s definitely not as bad as some of the other schools I’ve been to.” One anonymous response from the Google Form said, “I didn’t even know we had a dress code.” The consensus seems to be that Shorecrest has a pretty progressive dress code.
When asked about the pros of having a dress code, students provide many thoughts. Rose Leary, a junior who is actively involved with the dress code policy, proposed that “It creates a more unified look. If everyone has to fit the same parameters, it’s better than just saying, like ‘wear whatever you want.’” Junior Kevin Tang added, “People don’t like to get bullied for what they wear.”
There can definitely be significant benefits to having a dress code. The idea that people should look nice for school is not absurd. However, it is a little bit confusing for students that in today’s dress code, a T-shirt and leggings are appropriate, but a crop top is not.
Despite all of the good responses in the survey, 42.9 % of people said that they had been frustrated by the dress code, and 62.9 % of people said that they thought adjustments to the policy could be made.
A significant cause of these complaints may be that people don’t understand many aspects of the dress code. For example, sophomore Lauren Brumbelow said, “If it has just like the littlest bit of midriff showing, I don’t see how that’s an issue, especially if [the student has] a jacket on or wears something tied around their waist, or if they’re wearing high-waisted pants.” Junior Aurora Goldish-DeSanto reiterated, “Honestly, I don’t get it. Like what’s distracting about a belly button? I think a change that should be made should be the midriff rule. I feel like faculty should not get so upset over seeing some of a girl’s stomach.”
Many students have wondered why showing a midriff isn’t allowed, but it may not be as simple as just eliminating this rule. 3D Design teacher Casey McDonough asked, “Well, where do you draw the line? Where do you draw the line in terms of what you want to wear? Who decides what’s appropriate?” Students aren’t happy when staff decides the dress code and vice versa. It doesn’t seem realistic to eliminate the dress code. On the other hand, the dress code doesn’t necessarily have to remain the way that it is now.
Another thing that people talked about is the fact that girls are impacted more than boys. Junior Rose Leary said, “I think that the dress code is definitely sexist, and I think that it is way harder for girls to find clothes that fit the dress code than boys. And therefore that means that many more girls are getting dress coded while boys aren’t. And I feel as though if a boy were to be out of dress code, somehow he usually wouldn’t get dress-coded because it’s not as obvious as when a girl is.” Senior Emma Schiaparelli pointed out that “There are less restrictions on the guys’ dress codes. Girls are people who dress more feminine and that way they can get dress-coded more easily.” Sophomore Lauren Brumbelow added that “Some of the rules apply specifically to girls more than they do to guys. I believe that sometimes [administration] can apply it a little too strictly when girls aren’t even trying to do anything.”
From a student perspective, it makes a lot of sense to me that the rules seem to be harsher on girls. Girls definitely get dress coded more than boys. But Casey McDonough offered some interesting insight. “I think the dress code is based on covering a certain amount of skin. And I think that if the predominant fashion of 2021 was that boys wear crop tops, they’d be really upset, but it’s just not.”
The most important part of the discussion around the dress code is whether or not it allows for self-expression. I talked with Taylor Wolf, Shorecrest alumnus from the Class of 2014. She talked about what the dress code was when she was at Shorecrest. It is important to look at how much things have changed, and all of the progress that has been made before addressing current feelings of self-expression.
“We were required to wear collared T-shirts. If it was collared, we didn’t have to tuck it in, or we could wear really nice things, like blouses and skirts. And if we decided to wear shorts of any kind or a skirt, it had to be, like, finger length. So like, if our hands were down to our side, the length of the skirt would have to come to the bottom of our fingers, or it was like three inches above the knee. Nothing super tight or form-fitting in general. So no tight dresses or tight bottoms or pencil skirts, we weren’t allowed to wear any of that. Guys weren’t allowed to have facial hair and stuff like that. Girls weren’t allowed to have crazy hair colors or anything either. Guys also weren’t allowed to have super long hair from what I remember. We were supposed to have either close-toed shoes. We could wear sandals, but the sandals had to have a strap on the back. So that was really annoying…. No leggings.”
Many different Shorecrest students had mixed feelings about whether or not the dress code allowed for self-expression. Junior Selena Lin said, “My clothes style is always exercise and covers everything. I don’t see any downside of the dress code because it doesn’t affect me,” but someone from The Chronicle’s survey said, “I think that many of my female friends struggle to express themselves in the way that they please without it being seen as lewd or inappropriate. I think a majority of the dress code is suiting, in order to keep everybody looking appropriate for school, but there are some measures taken that don’t really affect anyone except for personally pleasing the staff and administration.” Junior Aurora Goldish-Desanto talked about why she had so many feelings about the dress code when she stated, “I show who I am through my outfit. It’s like, that’s one of my biggest things. That’s why I’m so into the whole dress code thing.”
Dean Hardy agrees that student identity is super important. When asked about the dress code she responded, “Since the beginning of time, teenagers have thought through how to push limits. It’s a natural part of the process when you have adults and adolescents sharing spaces. I accept and welcome the dialogue to push limits, and also feel it’s important for students to understand that adults take on the institutional, bigger picture viewpoint. I’ve been a part of other schools that have much stricter dress codes with much stricter consequences. I’ve also been a part of schools who do not value the student voice or point of view. I do not want any of this for our community. What I don’t like about that idea is two-fold: people stop talking to each other and identities get suppressed.” She made it very clear throughout my interview with her that she wanted to always encourage conversation.
Student input should become a permanent part of the dress code. If someone has a problem with a part of it, their voice should be heard. But students, too, should listen to the concerns of teachers and administrators. Even if the actual dress code doesn’t ever end up changing, then at least the way we talk about it can.